The outspoken artist Ai Weiwei has been refused permission to travel. Chinese authorities have seized his passport preventing him from travelling to New York to preside over a major showing of his work. The Hirshorn Museum is holding a retrospective of the dissident artist’s work, but he will not be present. He has also been offered a professorship at the Berlin Academy of the Arts.
Ai Weiwei has come from a tradition of activists. His father, a poet, was persecuted by Chairman Mao. Weiwei was a favoured artist at one time, gaining the prestigious assignment of designing the stadium for the 2008 Chinese Olympic Games. The stadium came to be nicknamed for its resemblance to a giant birdsnest. The earthquake in Sichuan Province in 2008 galvanized him to speak out directly against the current regime and the corruption that it allows. The Sichuan saw the death of about 5 000 children when shoddily built school buildings collapsed on them. Ai was attacked by police in his hotel room in Chengdu when he went to investigate the tragedy. He was later hospitalized in Germany for his lingering injuries.
While Ai was out of China, authorities demolished his state of the art studio outside Shanghai stating that he had not obtained the correct permits. He turned that into a metaphor for the corruption present in China’s government. Later he was ‘disappeared’ emerging from custody after three months in a prison.
The persecution continues. He was slapped with a multi-million dollar fine for non-payment of taxes. Sentenced to house arrest and forbidden to speak to outsiders. His home was under constant surveillance and now his business license is being revoked. The reason given: he failed to reregister for his license but of course he couldn’t because they had seized his papers and not returned them.
His fame and his message have continually grown. The attempts of the government to muzzle his speech have served as raw material for further artworks. The artist describes those who are harassing him as weak while his voice has grown stronger.